LOS ANGELES —It happens all the time in Hollywood: build everything around a cast of superstars and the supporting characters end up stealing the show. So went the script in Thursday’s opening round at the Genesis Open.
While the attention of media and fans was trained on the all-star grouping of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, the names on top at day’s end were somewhat less glamorous.
Tony Finau and Patrick Cantlay, both one-time Tour winners, fired five-under rounds of 66 at Riviera Country Club, one stroke ahead of Sam Saunders, Tom Hoge and Dominic Bozzelli.
For most of the day, the leaderboard was as jammed as the nearby infamous 405 freeway. Three-dozen players were under par as the sun set at Riviera. Not among them: Woods, whose round had all highs and lows of the roller coaster on the Santa Monica pier.
Making his 11th start in an event he has never won, Woods mixed wildly erratic driving with deft recovery play in a five-birdie round of 72, 1-over par, a score that will likely have him lingering around the cut mark when he heads to the tee at 12:02 p.m. PT Friday.
“It was alright. I made really silly bogeys out there. But overall I thought I hung in there well and grinded,” Woods said.
His round included a double-bogey at the 11th (his second hole) when his tee shot got lost in a tree. Five rounds into his comeback from back surgery, the 14-time major champion continues to emphasize the positives.
“I’m not far off putting some good numbers out there,” he said.
His playing partner McIlroy liked what he saw in his first competitive round with Woods since the final round of the 2015 Masters (they played a casual Thanksgiving round at Medalist Golf Club near their homes in Florida).
“It doesn’t feel like five years ago he won five tournaments and was player of the year,” McIlroy said. “He remembers how to do this and his body’s allowing him to do this, and there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll make a little bit of noise this year. The surgery could be the best thing that’s ever happened to him.”
McIlroy himself battled a frigid putter all day.
“I’m not missing the hole by a few inches, it’s sort of just sliding by the edges. So it’s not too far off,” he said after signing for a round of 71.
“Hopefully a few will drop for me tomorrow.”
A couple of hours after his round ended, McIlroy was grinding on the practice green by the iconic clubhouse with his caddie, Harry Diamond.
Reigning PGA champion Thomas emerged on top among the superstar threesome with 69, but the other stars in the field failed to make many flashbulbs pop. Two-time champion Phil Mickelson shot 70, Jordan Spieth was at 71, while defending champion and World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is in danger of having the weekend off after shooting 74.
The leaderboards at Riviera tend to see more rewrites than a movie script though, and the odds are against Cantlay or Finau staying in front all the way to Sunday. The last wire-to-wire winner was Charlie Sifford, back when the Genesis Open was the Los Angeles Open and it was played at Rancho Municipal. That was 49 years ago.